In No longer at east, a concerned Southeasterner rues how his region fares between two geopolitically opposed cult figures

I spent well over three weeks in my hometown this holiday season. Throughout that stay, my consciousness played games with me: my heart entreated me to stay put, while my mind urged me to bolt as quickly as I could. If I followed my mind I would have bade goodbye to my village just 4 days after arrival! But I stayed put for over three weeks of deep reflections and valuable introspection.

It’s no longer at “east” in the region. The southeast as I used to know it has changed monumentally; and not for the better! Currently, the region is essentially an approximation of Thomas Hobbes’ ‘The State Of Nature’, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Hobbes contends that individuals in a state of nature are not constrained by moral or legal obligations, as nothing can be unjust since the notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place there.

To me, a lot of things in the southeast don’t make sense any more. The region used to be a model for egalitarianism. Not any more! It used to be a place for great academic pursuit, dialectical exposition and the repository for free thinking. Not any more! It was a champion of republicanism, individualism, free association and free thinking. Not any more! The southeast was a region where logic informed action, where faith was a guide for human relationships and where belief in God was the ultimate virtue. Again, not any more!

For a people so intellectually imbued and so stubbornly assertive, it is shocking how meekly and easily we succumbed to a rule by the mob. The southeast is arguably, irretrievably, descending into fascism – reminiscent in many ways of Nazi Germany, where the worship of a cult personality was a national creed. In the case of the southeast, the last five years saw the emergence of one such cult personality. However, less than six months ago, cult figures rose to two. As a general rule, you oppose, criticize or castigate either of them at your own great peril. It’s considered heresy, a taboo, to speak ill of them. If you habored uncomplimentary opinions about either, your life insurance provider would quickly advise you to be extremely cautious in expressing them in public. The people of the southeast have become violently intolerant of opinions at variance with their’s. But, no one must overlook the contradiction in a people supporting two cult figures: one crusading to take the region out of Nigeria; the other intent on ruling Nigeria itself.

And there are other contradictions in today’s southeast that are well worth their weight in dissonance. The people loudly and ceremoniously profess christianity but worship money as the real god. It doesn’t matter what or who you are (an elder, upright man, industrious, wise, diligent, trustworthy, accomplished, erudite, a teacher or caregiver), you are nobody if you are not rich with money. Money is the universal king:- at the family gatherings, village associations, church meetings, town squares, church homilies, even the order of Holly Communions. You are nothing without money. As the saying goes, you could not possibly be considered a wise man if you are not wise enough to make money. The means to money is not important, only the end result. Money!!

Southeast towns and villages are dotted with princely mansions; the roads are clustered with fabulous limousines and SUVs. But on current savagery, those perks might as well be described as the entrapments of death. Because fancy automobiles and stately mansions have recently been known to be littered with many a gruesomely decapitated corpse. It is a brave man indeed who reads the goings-on in the social media and still ventures into the region. Nowadays, the ‘big boys’ have devised a truly ludicrous and laborious way to spend ‘holiday’ at home. They show up encircled by battle ready soldiers and policemen, their entourage arranged in convoys of siren blaring troop carriers, the big man’s limousines sandwiched in between. Road users who have the impudence to be on the roads are shoved aside, while hapless villagers scamper at the display of crude show of power. Courtiers are on hand to hail the presence of ‘odogwu’, and ubiquitous ‘men of god’ proclaim the great service the illustrious son is performing in God’s vineyard! One thing is clear, without a doubt: unknown gunmen have made sure that, as far as the southeast is concerned, it is no longer ‘holiday’ as usual!

The southeast is fast emerging as a classic banana republic (a tongue in cheek expression seeing that even bananas are no longer affordable there). The most enterprising region in Africa has somehow contracted to have the highest cost of living. By the machinations of terrorist gangs, kidnappers, cultists, armed robbers and, yes, sit-at-home injunctions, the GDP of the region has plummeted. Fewer days of commercial and business activities have meant lower productivity, higher cost of labor, elevated cost of living, higher fuel prices, spiked transportation costs and general angst.

For a people acclaimed for gallantry from civil war exploits, the current cowardice in the face of rampaging criminality is not just baffling, it’s humiliating. Gunmen demand ransom to allow functions go ahead. WhatsApp sit-at-home orders or rumors of them attract blanket obidience – markets are shuttered, transporters park their vehicles, banks lock their doors, and streets are deserted. There is no will nor courage to challenge the crippling orders.

Few years ago, gunmen were wildly feted in the region based on the assertion that they were needed to protect the zone against religious invaders whose mission would be to emasculate and enslave the Igbos. This is of course nonsense, which exposed a more profound contradiction. How can a people so informed, so travelled and shrewd, act on a propaganda so stupid and so at odd with reality. At any rate, what manner of a savior will first subjugate and kill their own people in order to protect them against an invader?!

Driving from Awka in Anambra State to Enugu, I encountered 3 checkpoints mounted by local gangs. They were gracious to let private motorists (like me) go through, but extorted commercial vehicles and trucks. No one dared to complain or resist. Bands of locally minted criminals routinely kill and maim at will, and get away with their heinous acts. The southeast is being tyrannized by the mob, decimated by armed gangs and ruled by hoodlums. The police are on AWOL! As a citizen, you’re on your own.

The Nigerian southeast is in “The State Of Nature” – the hypothetical way of life envisaged by the British political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, before people organized themselves into lawful societies. The big question is, how long will it take the southeast to return to a “State of Law”? And civility? The Southeast!

No longer at “East”

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